25: If You Build It

25: If You Build It

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Teens Talk Getting In...To College

If You Build It

God’s will is not an itinerary, but an attitude.

~Andrew Dhuse

In my family, we didn’t make quaint gingerbread houses for Christmas, we made candy castles—McMansions made of industrial strength white frosting and all the Brach’s hard candies, gumdrops, Hershey’s Kisses and peppermints we could pile on without collapse. From the Walt Disney Cinderella castle, artistically replicated with ice cream cone turrets, to a full New York City block with a succession of vanity mirrors to depict the icy city streets and Nerds snowflakes, our candy construction endeavors were nothing less than extraordinary. You could say that my parents attacked this simple-made-extravagant holiday tradition much as they did their careers and education. They went big, and excellence was the only option.

My mom and dad met at a prestigious law school, and my father was an official admissions interviewer for his renowned Ivy League alma mater. Throughout my childhood, I listened to my dad talk about the amazing, if not super-human, students he interviewed. They all seemed to have published books, played in a few symphonies (many being first chair in the state before they reached puberty), took care of impoverished foreign family members, and were fluent in several languages. Oh, and it goes without saying they all had perfect scores on their SATs and took classes at local colleges to offset the boredom of the high school curriculum.

I was a good student as well, happily exhausted with my honors courses, sports and activities, though when my senior year rolled around, I was very nervous about getting into college. Not only because college was a very Big Deal in my family, but also because the school I wanted to attend was the ultra-competitive and hard-to-get-into University of Notre Dame.

Several teachers told me to kiss my application goodbye, and most everyone I talked to recommend that I adopt an Irish heritage. But despite their doubts, I had faith that Notre Dame was the perfect school for me (and believed I was qualified, regardless of my failure to play the violin outside anything but a school gym).

So that December, in honor of my college hopes, we decided to build a candy replica of none other than the Cathedral of Notre Dame.

Like any of our endeavors, we attacked the project with intensity. We got out the old encyclopedias and checked out library books for authentic architectural accuracy. We made sure we had the exact number of candy cane flying buttresses, and melted LifeSavers in the oven to best represent the stained glass rose windows. Like any big construction project, candy or otherwise, the cathedral took longer than expected to complete.

With every passing day of adding another gummy bear gargoyle or M&M doorknob, it was one day closer to when I was supposed to hear back from Notre Dame. I applied for Early Action acceptance, and I expected to find out if I was “in” right before Christmas. I was literally a bundle of nerves. Several of my friends had been accepted to schools with rolling admission policies, and the children of ND alumni were already glowing with pride. Meanwhile, my dad would come home and tell us how shocked he was that so-and-so amazing Ivy League applicant didn’t even get pushed to the waiting list, let alone get accepted early. All the while I was preparing for finals, checking the mailbox incessantly for a thick envelope, and frosting on more nougat bricks to keep from biting my nails or going completely crazy.

Finally finished, the cathedral sat in the middle of our kitchen, taking up most of the table. It stood not only as an impressive Christmas decoration, but also as a sugar-infused symbol of my college dreams. We admired it for a few days, standing on pins and needles “waiting to hear back.” Then, my mom realized we forgot something.

Looking at the candy-packed replica, with its Red Hot-accented towers, Now and Later-bricked side chapels and foil-wrapped bells, it was hard to imagine that we forgot a thing.

“The cross!” Mom said with worry. “We forgot the cross!”

Whoops. We did remember a lot of things, even the Teddy Grahams tourists, but truly, we did forget the cross.

With that revelation, my mom went upstairs to her jewelry box and removed a small amethyst cross, set in silver, from a necklace (as Twizzlers just wouldn’t do for something that special.) She whipped up some frosting and placed it on top of the cathedral’s center steeple.

The very next day I received a letter welcoming me to the University of Notre Dame Class of 2004.

~Alexandra Gierak

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